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Gardens with Purpose

The Garden of the Senses in Petrópolis, Brazil, teaches people who are visually impaired about gardening and the environment.

The Garden of the Senses in Petrópolis, Brazil, teaches people who are visually impaired about gardening and the environment.

Gardens with Purpose

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Touchstone Story #68

The idea came to Bruno Nascimento of the Itaipava Lions Club in Petrópolis, Brazil, as he was watching a student who was blind on a visit to the Farm Water Project.

The Farm Water Project taught environmental classes, and Bruno wondered if the student was truly enjoying the experience. He wondered: what if there was a place designed just for students who are visually impaired?

Bruno pitched his ideas to Sylva Confidence, communications director at the Farm Water Project, and agronomist Carolina Rodrigues. They were enthusiastically supportive, and with resources from the Itaipava Lions Club and the Farm Water Project, a new kind of experience was proposed, designed and launched within four months.

At noon on Dec.12, 2012, the Garden of the Senses, designed specifically for people with disabilities, senior citizens and anyone who wanted to experience the world of the senses in a new way, opened to the public.

The opening date was chosen specifically to rebut the Mayan prophecy that predicted the end of the world a few days later—a story that was all over the media at the time. “We chose that date to make clear that our intention was not only to remain on planet Earth, but to make it more humane,” Bruno said. “To give people the opportunity to coexist in harmony and to allow visitors to enjoy their senses with truth and intensity.”

The Garden of the Senses is 400 square meters, designed as a walking route through six stations. The small space can be navigated quickly, but it is designed to be experienced as a slow pace, emphasizing all five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch and even taste). It depicts every phase of a plant’s life. Most visitors take 20 to 30 minutes to tour the garden. Visitors who are not physically or visually impaired are asked to take off their shoes and put on a pair of dark sunglasses.

The first stop is the Ground Station, where visitors touch sandy soil, clay and compost. For visitors with limited mobility, soil is placed in old tires that are raised off of the ground. There is also a short hallway of grass and soil so visitors can walk on ground that is ready to be planted.

The Water Station is next, with a fish pond and a waterfall that produces a peaceful sound. The Seed Station has seed samples of various sizes and colors that visitors can touch. The Seedling Station is home to plants just beginning to sprout, while the Plant Station illustrates the sights and smells of plants on the vine.

At the Harvest Station, visitors can taste some of the fruits and vegetables grown in the garden.

“It’s amazing to realize how little we use our other senses,” Bruno said. “When I touched a flower, unhurried, with affection—realizing its texture, size and aroma—the details came out.”

Community gardens that are supported by Lions clubs have sprung up all over the world. Every year in late September, students at Whitefish Middle School in Whitefish, Montana, harvest vegetables in a garden supported by the Whitefish Lions Club. The garden produces organic squash, potatoes, zucchini and kale that go from the farm to the school cafeteria’s kitchen and ultimately winds up on their lunch trays.

“It can feed a whole school system from fall to spring,” said Lion Greg Schaffer, the Whitefish garden program director.

Community gardens provide more than just quality, organic, locally sourced food. They provide a valuable learning experience that doesn’t require a lot of resources to launch.

“A lot of space, a lot of supplies are not needed,” Bruno said. “Some old tires, rope, a space no bigger than a basketball court. And passionate people who will serve. But that’s what Lions are.”

School cafeterias in Whitefish, Montana, use the fruits and vegetables from the community garden sponsored by the Whitefish Lions Club.

School cafeterias in Whitefish, Montana, use the fruits and vegetables from the community garden sponsored by the Whitefish Lions Club.

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